Yapmo, an internal communication program designed to replace inefficient group communications, has unexpectedly found a niche in the real estate sector. Agents are using it to help sellers price their houses and, in some cases, to actually sell properties before they are listed.
Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby's International hasn't sold any houses using the intuitive software program since switching to it in July as a way to streamline internal communication. But just the other day, says broker David Boehmig, an agent in his firm used it to properly price a potential listing so it would sell more quickly.
But Chicago's largest residential brokerage, @properties, has been using the system since Jan. 1. And in that time, Kevin Van Eck, director of agent development, estimates that 275 properties have been sold thanks to the software -- without ever being placed on the local multiple listing service.
The main purpose of the Yapmo -- techie shorthand for talk, or yap, mobile -- wasn't to validate pricing, or even sell houses. Rather, it was to replace ineffective company communication systems and allow emails to be used more effectively.
But it turned out that "it works extremely well" in the real estate sector, says Paul Everton, CEO of the Chicago software company. And as far as listings and sales go, Everton says, "It just hit me from left field."
Yapmo describes itself as a mobile software company which builds workflow tools that allow a company's employees to work more efficiently and communicate smarter. It claims its tools boost productivity, increase sales and accelerate ideas.
@properties bought into the program for just that reason. It went into business eight years ago implementing web- and email-based technologies that enabled the company to out-maneuver its competitors and become Chicago's largest brokerage, with 13 offices in the city and suburbs and some 1,200 agents.
But fast-forward to 2013, and the same technologies that allowed the company to move quickly and prosper have become a burden. Some emails, for example, were copied to 20 different people, whether they needed the messages or not. And in the process, key messages from company owners and brokers were getting lost.
"Emails have been a huge benefit in being able to collaborate," says Van Eck of @properties. "But now I get 300 a day and only four actually apply to me."
Yapmo says the typical employee spends 13 hours a week in their email inboxes, and real estate agents are no different. But by using the firm's intuitive software, @properties has been able to eliminate some 75,000 emails a year from every agent's inbox.
That means agents no longer have to fool with superfluous emails selling Viagra, unwanted notices about office pools, and other non-work-related messages. That frees them up to spend more time listing houses, showing and selling properties, and attending closings.
Agents found that the software allowed them to "preview" possible listings with their fellow agents, and market them internally before they hit the open market.
That's a form of so-called "pocket listings," which are somewhat controversial in and of themselves.
With a pocket listing, a property for sale is held out of the local MLS while the seller's agent shops it among his own list of clients and friends. If the agent finds a buyer, he gets to keep the entire commission rather than sharing it with a buyer's agent.
But while a house is in the agent's pocket, so to speak, it is not exposed to the entire market, as it would be if it was listed on the MLS. And in theory, at least, if the house was listed, the seller might have been able to secure a higher price.
Under the rules of most MLS systems, a property must be listed within 48 hours of receiving a signed listing agreement. So a true pocket listing is only a short-term ploy at best.
But the Yapmo software makes the process more efficient. Agents are able to automatically shop the property in-house directly to buyers and other agents who have expressed an interest in that kind of house, that price range or perhaps that particular location.
It isn't intended to limit exposure to keep the deal in-house, according to Van Eck. Rather, it is intended to maximize exposure during the "downtime" between when a listing is taken and the house is ready to show.
"Nothing in the MLS defines what people are looking for," says Boehmig, the Atlanta broker. "But with this tool, a conversation can ensue while a house is getting ready to come on the market. Our agents can say, 'I want to hear about that kind of stuff but not that kind of stuff.'"
Yapmo also works well for sellers who don't know what their homes are worth, or for those who value their privacy and don't want to tell the world that they are getting ready to put their properties on the market -- or what price they are asking.
"One of our agents just took a listing but was concerned about the price," says Boemig. "He was able to email other agents in the company saying, 'Here's what the seller is thinking. What do you think?' And when the house actually came on the market, it was positioned properly to sell."